Movie Review: Sully (2016)

“The untold story behind the miracle on the Hudson!

2 Stars
Sully (2016)

Sully (2016)


Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney

Synopsis: The story of Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who successfully landed a commercial airliner on the Hudson River

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If you ever suffer the misfortune of being a passenger on a plane that’s terminally stricken by a collision with a flock of birds, Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks) is just the type of guy you want at the controls.   When both of its engines were disabled following a bird strike shortly after take off on 15th January 2009, commercial airline pilot Sullenberger – or Sully, as he is known to family and friends – drew upon forty years of flying experience to set down US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River.   None of the 155 passengers died that day.   Most injuries suffered were minor, and the media proclaimed Sully as the hero of what they dubbed the Miracle on the Hudson.

Some movies might have used the incident as a device around which it could entwine a number of fictionalised human interest stories about the passengers and crew, but Clint Eastwood confines his attention to its emotional and psychological impact on Sullenberger.   Sully is a quiet, introspective man, and the role of hero sits uneasily on his shoulders as, together with Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart – The Rum Diary, London Has Fallen), his co-pilot on that fateful day, he does the round of chat show interviews, and smiles politely at the plaudits he receives, even as an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board questions his decision to land on the river instead of diverting to any of a number of nearby airports.   A series of computer and manual simulations successfully negotiate their way back to the runways, so why didn’t Sully?

These questions provide fairly weak dramatic impetus, given that the outcome of the NTSB’s investigation is widely known, but Eastwood counters this problem by exaggerating the intensity of hostile questioning from the board, and by adopting a non-linear chronology that permits him to return repeatedly to the crash, which is where Sully is at its strongest.   Sully’s nightmares, in which he unsuccessfully attempts to steer the Airbus between towering city skyscrapers, provide the spectacular trailer-friendly CGI shots, but the success of the movie largely hinges on the performance of Hanks.   Naturally, he gives the kind of subdued and thoughtful delivery that has become as much a hallmark of his later performances as his youthful exuberance was in the 1980s.   He’s provided with solid support by Aaron Eckhart as Sully’s co-pilot on that fateful day, who shows unswerving loyalty to his captain as doubts surface over Sully’s decision to land on the Hudson.   Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes, Genius) is not so effective as Sully’s wife, largely due to the fact that she’s called upon to deliver all of her lines into a telephone, a decision which makes life difficult for her but which succeeds in conveying Sully’s sense of isolation as he endeavours to cope with the aftermath.

Not so much a disaster movie as a disaster-averted movie, Sully proves that, despite their relative seniority in their respective professions, both Hanks and Eastwood remain on good form.   It’s not a movie for those brought up on action delivered at a breathless pace, but is a welcome throwback to the kind of character-driven movies that were so prevalent until the ‘70s, but which are now largely the preserve of the independents.

(Reviewed 28th September 2016)

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